Ministry of Health spells out efforts to tackle bed crunch

Gan: Patients' comfort also important amid bed shortage in public hospitals

HEALTH Minister Gan Kim Yong has instructed public hospitals to "do everything possible" to make patients comfortable and "ensure their safety" even as they face a severe shortage of beds.

Having seen the growing demand for hospital care some years ago, he stressed yesterday that the Government has begun building more hospitals, with 1,200 beds to be added later this year.

In the meantime, "we are actively working to tackle the current crunch in a few public hospitals" he said, by sending patients to other public hospitals with available beds, and discharging them to community hospitals when possible.

Bed Occupany Rates (Dec 29-Jan 4)

*For National University Hospital, the figures are for the adult emergency medical department only.

Source: Ministry of Health

Straits Times Graphic: Lin Zhaowei

Yesterday, Mount Elizabeth Novena offered to lend 60 beds to public hospitals to help relieve the space crunch. Alternatively, it said, it could take in that many patients to be cared for by its own medical team.

Explaining how the new upmarket private hospital has spare capacity as it is not fully opened yet, chief executive Kelvin Loh said: "We're always open to private-public cooperation."

He added that fees will be reasonable as"the intention is to help meet the high demand".

The offer comes after a Straits Times report yesterday highlighting the severe shortage of beds at several public hospitals.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), Changi General Hospital (CGH) and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) experienced more than 92 per cent bed occupancy last week, on the back of very high rates in the past year.

That means there were days when occupancy crossed the 100 per cent mark, forcing CGH, for instance, to start housing some patients in a tent this week.

Dr Loh said private hospitals usually aim for occupancy rates of 70 per cent to 75 per cent, as special beds in intensive care and isolation units, for instance, must always be kept available for emergencies.

If occupancy rates cross 80 per cent, "it means that on peak days we could cross 100 per cent and our responsiveness will be affected". "That's not acceptable in a private hospital."

Two other hospitals in the Parkway Pantai group, to which Mount Elizabeth Novena belongs, already have link-ups with the public sector. CGH rents a ward from Parkway East, while also sending some of its dengue patients to Gleneagles Hospital.

"I think the Ministry of Health should be open to all options which can help alleviate the current situation," said the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, Dr Lam Pin Min, when told about Mount Elizabeth Novena's offer. He added that he will raise the subject when Parliament next sits on Jan 20.

The hospital most likely to benefit is TTSH as it is just across the road from Mount Elizabeth Novena. It has already set up temporary beds, complete with privacy curtains, along the corridors of its wards to deal with its bed crunch.

Nearly 30 patients are using these "corridor beds".

The bed crunch is also affecting the National University Hospital (NUH), with 89 per cent occupancy last week.